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2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread.’
This is our fourth week of studying The Lord’s Prayer. As we have already discovered there is so much behind the words we say in this simple prayer.
I think the simplicity is truly a blessing for us, we agonize so much on how to pray, what to say…and so on those days when words don’t come, this is the prayer for us, the disciples’ prayer. We say these simple words knowing that the Holy Spirit will interpret for us the complexity found underneath these words…the words we don’t know how to speak…And then we just trust, trust that God, the One who is holy and yet fully present understands what we should pray, what we need to pray.
We don’t have to have perfect words, but this is also important to know, we don’t even need to understand ourselves and so often our inability to express what is hidden deep within us…all we need is a heartfelt desire to follow God’s will and receive what God has to offer us through this prayer. Last week we asked that God would “give us our daily bread.” And we came to realize that we need both physical and spiritual food…daily, every day. We need this connection to God, to be reminded of God’s presence. In the receiving of this daily bread, that we ask for, we open ourselves to God’s inclusive love; a love that expands our capacity to be filled…giving us more than we need with leftovers to share, bringing light and life into the lives of others.
So now that we have received our bread and are full, we move to look at verse 12 in Matthew, asking for forgiveness. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” God feeds us until we are satisfied and then we move into action, seeking to cleanse ourselves and be a force of reconciliation to those around us. Do you see the connection here? The connection between asking God to forgive us and affirming our desire to forgive others? We’re not asking God to do something for us and not commit to doing our own work to do the same. This begs the question if we don’t forgive others will God still forgive us? What if we simply can’t forgive? Let’s say we really want to forgive someone, but we just can’t, the grievance against us or to someone we know is just too great! I’m quite sure each one of you can think of something that seems unforgivable. A forgiveness that is beyond understanding…a loss, an offense, an act of violence so great that the hole in the heart will never, never be healed. This forgiveness beyond understanding reminds me of the story about Louie Zamperini…the WWII POW survivor. His full story is told in the book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.
Maybe some of you have read this book. Let me tell you a bit of his story. You see Louie was a bombardier in the air force but one frightful day he was on a search and rescue mission and the plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean 800 miles south of Hawaii. Floating on a life raft in the midst of 85 million square miles of water was Louie and two other crash survivors. He and his comrades floated adrift in this little raft for 47 days until captured by the Japanese (It was a bit of a miracle they survived in the ocean that long). Once captured Louie landed in a “death camp” one of the cruelest concentration camps where the Corporal overseeing the prisoners was called “The Bird”. He was pathologically brutal, but he never killed his victims outright - his pleasure came from their slow, unending torment. Louie was The Bird’s favorite victim of choice. Louie can’t even talk about “The Bird” or the torture because it is too difficult to even speak about. Louie survived the horrendous experience of the “death camp” for 2 years, 2 long, unbearable years of being tortured by “The Bird” whose name was Mitsuhiro Watanabe. When the war ended, and Louie returned to civilian life, the torture continued through nightmares and anxiety, it drove him to drink and put his marriage in ruins. Louie finding himself again at the end of his rope, a life in ruins, went to a Billy Graham revival and found a new-found faith in Jesus Christ. Could Louie ever forgive “The Bird”, could he ever forgive a man who tormented him to the very edge of survival!? Did “The Bird” even deserve to be forgiven? What if the Bird didn’t even think he needed to be forgiven? And then what if he is dead like everyone thought?
But then years later due to a circuitous connection between a reporter and the upcoming Olympics that were to take place in Japan, it was discovered that Watanabe, “The Bird” was alive. Louie sat down a wrote a letter to Watanabe, not knowing anything about the state of The Bird, not knowing if he had any remorse or any regrets. This is what Louie wrote, “As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to have with a vengeance. Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end. The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them.” As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison…I asked them about you, and was told that you probably had committed Hara-Kiri, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.” What a letter! Louie Zamperini was able to forgive the unforgivable! Love means forgiveness is possible.
This is a remarkable story, isn’t it? Forgiving the sins of another person changes us doesn’t it? Forgiveness frees the soul to live the life we are intended to live. Louie’s confrontation with God transformed his hatred into love, but it also released him from a past that haunted him. That love that he experienced in Christ could no longer hold the pain, or hold the anguish, or the atrocities experienced not only in his body but his very spirit. But you see something else significant happened here. Once Louie could forgive Watanabe, if he could forgive what seems unforgivable, surely God could forgive him. Our God who can transform a life in such a drastic way certainly can forgive our sins too. Our ability to forgive is in response to God’s forgiveness, not a prerequisite! God’s acts of forgiveness our boundless pushing us to simply believe we are forgiven. So, if you have someone you need to forgive but it seems impossible, please don’t give up on yourself because God’s love is powerful enough to do the work within you. If you are carrying a great heaviness of your own sins, please don’t give up on yourself for God’s love can find a way into the dark places hidden deep within you. God’s love cannot be stopped!
Louie had a confrontation with God that changed his life forever and each time we pause to pray, each time we ask for our sins to be forgiven as we forgive the sins of others, God’s presence is at work in our hearts, in our minds and in our spirits. Forgiveness is possible!